In his fantastic 2009 TED Talk, Steven Johnson explores how the English coffeehouse of the Enlightenment was crucial to the development and spread of one of the great intellectual flowerings of the last 500 years. This tendency for physical places to transcend their mere utilitarian function and serve as hubs of (sub)cultural development is evident throughout history, from the cave fire pit that sparked the dawn of communal storytelling to today’s coworking spaces that offer fertile ground for collaborative betterment.
In South African Township Barbershops & Salons, photographer Simon Weller explores the peculiar cultural and social hubs of South African townships, salons and barbershop, which too transcend their mere function as places to get your hair cut and serve as pivotal places for the local community to gather, gossip and exchange ideas. Weller contextualizes the rich and vibrant photographs of the shops and portraits of their patrons with fascinating essays that expound on the aesthetics of these hubs and their signage though interviews with the owners, customers and sign designers.
This book and these images have inspired me to be more creative and “graphic-design” like with my layouts, using alternative fonts/type faces/photos etc with the characters in the images interacting with each other and the words.
When Hurricane Katrina swept across New Orleans, killing 1,836 people, damaging and destroying over 76,000 houses, and leaving many homeless, photographer Jennifer Shaw (http://jennifershaw.net) found solace in capturing the turmoil with a plastic Holga camera. Hers is a story both incredible and true — from the dramatic birth of her first child on the very day of Katrina’s first strike, to her struggle with depression and her husband’s rage episodes, to their eventual return to New Orleans in time for their son’s first Mardi Gras. Hurricane Story is part memoir, part fairy tale, part poetic story of exile and homecoming, told through 46 beautiful, dream-like images and simple but powerful prose. The Holga’s rudimentary functionality, with its limited control over exposure, focus and lighting, further intensifies the story’s haunting, cinematic feel, drawing you into a seemingly surreal world that sprang from an extraordinary and brave reality. The use of first person and dream like images has encouraged me to make my images even more entwined and interactive with the first person text I am using- whilst I have not written over images (I tried it without success!) this book has made me think of new ways to link words and photos so that they tie together rather than being two separate elements, their integration with each other is crucial to the successfulness of my book.
“Like a mournful fairytale, Jennifer Shaw’s beautifully staged tableaux are alternately sweet and menacing, filled with emotion but never spilling over into sentimentality. The poetic marriage of words and photos makes Hurricane Story a children’s book for grown-ups.” —Josh Neufeld, creator of A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge
Jeroen Toirkens book Nomad is a fascinating and strikingly beautiful visual anthropology of the Northern Hemisphere’s last living nomadic peoples, from Greenland to Turkey. A decade in the making, this multi-continent journey unfolds in 150 black-and-white and full-color photos that reveal what feels like an alternate reality of a life often harsh, sometimes poetic, devoid of many of our modern luxuries and basic givens, from shiny digital gadgets to a permanent roof over one’s head. His use of black and white images mixed with colour has emboldened my decision to have a few colour photographs within the mainly black and white book- it makes them that bit more compelling and entrancing when one suddenly appears. Nomad is a stunning exercise in perspective-shifting, it invites you to see the world — our world, and yet a world that feels eerily other — with new eyes, embracing it with equal parts fascination and profound human empathy. I hope that with my own photography I shall be as visually eloquent at capturing the human condition as Toirkens. The case of his book is also extremely enchanting as the linen fur instantly puts your mind in tune with the nomads and their lifestyle- it is an interactive book physically and mentally, something I hope the truth of my collected quotes will do to viewers of my book.